Exercising one’s democratic right in an election means that every vote must count. But without a voter’s card, you cannot exercise this right. These simple and cheap tools make it easier for eligible Kenyan citizens to register with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
GotToVote! Kenya is designed to help citizens find their nearest voter registration centre, so that they can ensure they are eligible to vote in the 2017 general election.
This website, which is optimised for easy mobile access, explains who is eligible to register and gives an overview of the voter registration process. It also tells users what documentation to take with them to register, and helps users easily find their nearest voter registration center.
This information is available elsewhere, but only as difficult-to-access PDF and MS Word or Excel documents that citizens are forced to download from a confusing variety of different ministry or other official websites.
GotToVote! Kenya takes the pain out of finding the information, by bringing it all together in one place and by presenting it in a standardised format that is easily searchable and readable.
Future versions of the site will introduce SMS tools, and will help users verify their registration, find their balloting stations, and track their local election results.
GotToVote! Kenya is not a government website. It was instead built by local civic lab Code for Kenya and the continental open data incubator, Code for Africa.
This project took just three days and $500 to execute. All the cleaned-up data and source materials used to power this website are available, free-of-charge, for you to reuse on your own projects here (data) and here (source code).
Contact us if you’d like our help to build other exciting citizen tools.
GotToVote! is an example of how open data can be useful to ordinary citizens.
GotToVote! was built as a Code for Kenya data journalism project to demonstrate how data-driven tools can help ordinary citizens decipher and then act on the news they read / watch, by finding out how a national event such as the elections affects their personal lives or local communities.
The first version of GotToVote, was originally built in just 24hrs, at zero cost, to help voters register for the elections. Code for Kenya initiated the project after citizens complained that the official data released in PDF format by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) was too large to download and too cumbersome to use.
“The file was so big, it would have taken days for ordinary Kenyans to download. And, once they opened the document all they would have found was complex lists and tables of constituency registration centres. These elections are a tight race, and every vote counts. So, we knew that the information was simply too important to be ignored,” explains Open Institute executive director, Jay Bhalla.
Two Code for Kenya fellows, David Lemayian and Simeon Oriko, therefore scraped the data out of the IEBC document and built a simple website for citizens to find their registration centre at the click of a button. The website also helped citizens understand the often complex procedures for registering. The site went viral.
These early successes prompted Dutch human rights organisation, HiVOS, to make a grant to the project to build additional functionality, as well as to package GotToVote and other useful civic technology tools into a ‘plug-&-play’ resource kit for media and citizen groups in other countries.
“The media and political parties are all focused on the national results and on results affecting two or three of the higher profile presidential contenders. The ordinary citizen and their need to know about their local results was getting lost in all the hype. GotToVote seeks to change that, by giving citizens their local results, as soon as they’re available, and mashing up these results with other locally relevant data,” says Bhalla.
The second version of GotToVote does two things: it initially helps citizens spread messages of peace, by allowing them to send free SMS messages to friends and associates urging restraint at the ballot box. Once balloting closes, GotToVote will allow citizens to cut through all the ‘noise’ and hype generated during elections, by giving easy access to the official election results for their local counties, or local constituencies. GotToVote will also contextualise the results, by overlaying ballot returns with information about local trends, and official reports of local election fraud or other irregularities.
GotToVote! has since been replicated in Malawi (where electoral authorities adopted it as the official government solution for voter verification), Ghana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
“The approach is something that data journalists in programmes like Code for Kenya do all the time. Thousands of Kenyans were using GotToVote to register for the elections, within hours of the 1st version of the site going live. It proved that the real power of civic technologies is their ability to quickly and cheaply translate complex data into ‘actionable’ information, and to then calibrate the information to a citizens’ exact location or other circumstances,” says Code for Africa Director, Justin Arenstein.
Code for Kenya is a fully fleged initiative spearheaded by Code for Africa. It has continued to embed Data Fellows into major Kenyan newsrooms and a civil society organisation, to help kickstart experimentation with data-driven civic engagement tools. The Data Fellows were supported by an external software development team.
Code for Kenya has inspired similar initiatives in Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. Its success has prompted Code for Africa to pledge additional funding to allow Code for Kenya’s Accelerator lab to continue building civic tech projects until the end of 2019.
Code for Africa and its partners hate seeing civil society or anyone else being duped into wasting money unnecessarily on inappropriate technology or predatory consultancies.
There are thousands of civic apps and other technology solutions already available for reuse, free-of-charge, on communities such as GitHub.
Code for Africa is committed to help grow these resources and the global civic technology community, by making its code and data freely available. It is also committed to helping fellow African citizen agency organisations re-purpose and customise existing civic code as cost-effectively as possible.
The code for GotToVote! Kenya is available here.
All the data used by the Kenya project and other initiatives is available for free reuse on the openAFRICA.net portal. It is already the continent’s largest repository of public data, despite being volunteer run, and offers data ranging from government budget and tender information, to data about parliamentarians and other public officials.
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